Monday, November 9, 2009

The Dabai Story

The best Dabai (O-lam in hokkien and kra-lan in Foochow) in Sarawak, a kind of local olives, are reputed to come from Sibu. There are usually available towards the end of the year. Prices range from RM12 to even 18/kg. This is one of the few things that my mum would definitely hoard back from every single one of her Sibu trips, without fail.

The preparation for Dabai traditionally includes soaking them in lukewarm water. Normally, these little delicacies will be washed in plain water and placed into a bowl of lukewarm water and soaked with a plate covering for about 20 min to 30 min or so.

But this is where the complexity sets in as the water temperature & the soaking duration has to be just right. The temperature has to be that you can place your hands in it. Any slight miscalculation & the whole thing would become inedible, hard and waxy.

The story goes that once upon a time, because Dabai originated from Sibu, many Kuchingites upon being introduced to them for the very first time, tried cooking them. They fried, stir fried, boiled and obviously ended up puzzled about how Sibu people could actually eat this ridiculously hard thing.

There exists another simpler method of preparing Dabai which we've heard of only very recently. The good thing is that this new method requires none of that temperature control & soaking. All you need to do is to wash and wrap them up in a plastic bag and freeze them. After completely defrosting, they are as soft as they can get. Season them with sweet (optional) dark soya sauce and sugar. And there you go! They transform into highly addictive morsels.

But this is not the end of the story yet, at least for people like Greg. His Dabai journey begins when everyone else finishes. If you're eating Dabai, and you're anywhere near him, you'd need to surrender the seeds to him, otherwise he gets upset.

Dabai seeds can actually be eaten. I know that part is true cos Greg has eaten them many times & he's still alive plus I haven't seen any Dabai plant growing out of his butt.

The seed is really hard as Greg would attest. You can see him pounding them away with the pestle & mortar, & debris will be flying off 10 feet away. When the nut breaks away, it reveals a fresh green nutty like filling inside which Greg would meticulously pick out with a toothpick.

Sometimes I wonder if Greg really likes Dabai, or that he's just trying to gulp down as much as possible just so that he can have the seeds later. But I think whatever it is, as long as he's doing the pounding & the picking himself, he can do whatever he wants.

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